Rare cattle sporting the latest grazing technology will help to manage habitats at Norfolk's newest urban nature reserve.

A six-strong herd of British White cattle has been released at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's reserve on Sweet Briar Marshes, just outside Norwich, which will open to the public in spring.

The animals are equipped with collars containing a GPS tracker which uses mild electrical pulses and audio cues to train them to stay within "virtual" boundaries - allowing the reserve team to focus their grazing to preserve the site's mosaic of different habitats.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk Wildlife Trust's new urban nature reserve at Sweet Briar Marshes near NorwichNorfolk Wildlife Trust's new urban nature reserve at Sweet Briar Marshes near Norwich (Image: NWT)

British Whites are among the earliest recorded domestic cattle breeds in Britain and have roots dating back to Norfolk from the late 1700s.

The hardy animals are considered ideal for conservation grazing on wet sites such as Sweet Briar Marshes, where they will break down vegetation to encourage higher plant diversity and create bare ground to benefit feeding birds, invertebrates and basking reptiles.
NWT urban reserves manager Matt Wickens said: "Typically on our nature reserves we have a perimeter fence at our boundary, and our livestock roam it as one big field.

"If we want to keep them inside or outside of an area it requires using traditional electric fencing methods. With this collar technology we're able to be much more flexible, dividing that field as necessary into compartments at different times of the year to benefit wildlife, all from a phone app.

"We have been trialling the collars on a similar urban reserve and are confident the cows understand how the technology works, so that when they approach a virtual fence, they are reacting to the sound cue that plays, rather than the mild electric pulse. We will be monitoring the system closely – and it will not be a substitute for our regular welfare checks.
"Livestock have grazed these marshes off and on for many years. So really this is just the return of an old way of doing things and mimics the wild herds that would have once roamed across Norfolk thousands of years ago."

Other essential infrastructure needed to introduce the cattle to the marshes, including a 2.6km long perimeter fence, was funded by Biffa Award, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund.